Wind, rain and snow played their part on stage two of 2017 Paris-Nice on Monday, as the peloton was once again splintered with some big names caught out on the wrong side of splits – including Richie Porte (BMC).
Italian Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) took the stage victory in the reduced bunch sprint after the chaotic day, finishing just ahead of German John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo).
Stage one winner and race leader Arnaud Démare (FDJ) finished in third to retain the yellow jersey.
It was a repeat of the opening stage on Sunday, as crosswinds ripped up the peloton on the 195km stage from Rochefort-en-Yvelines to Amilly.
The dire conditions set the backdrop for some very aggressive and unpredictable racing, as various groups yo-yoed between each other, joining and splitting up again.
Just as they did on stage one, Quick-Step Floors used their combined experience in riding windy classics to contribute to forcing the pace of the front group, with around 20 riders staying out front and posing a danger after 50km.
At that point, the group contained the likes of Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors), André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Ben Swift (UAE Team Emirates).
They were later caught by a second group, which included Team Sky's Luke Rowe and Sergio Henao.
As the pace eased up, and more riders caught back up to the front group, a unit of six men attacked off the front with 60km to go: Sven Erik Bystrom (Katusha-Alpecin), Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Maarten Wynants (LottoNL-Jumbo), Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), Evaldas Siskevicius (Delko–Marseille Provence KTM) and Marc Sarreau (FDJ).
The group put in a huge effort to stay away, building up a lead of over a minute with 40km to go. Sarreau punctured, leaving five out front. Sensing that his companions were fading with the final 20km, Gilbert launched a solo move with 17km to go.
The former world champion opened up a gap of around a minute, but was visibly flagging as the race turned into a block headwind, and was caught with 6.4km to go.
Several short-lived attacks were fired off from the bunch, but all were reeled in as what was left of the sprinters' teams controlled the action into the finale.
Colbrelli initially looked as though he had opened his sprint up too early, but he somehow managed to maintain his momentum to defy an impressive list of sprinters and take a memorable first win in his first year on a WorldTour team. His roar as he crossed the line showed just what it meant to him.
"It’s the greatest victory of my career," said Colbrelli after the victory. "It’s incredible. I managed a perfect sprint and to beat riders like Degenkolb or even Kittel just shows that. Of course I have Milan-San Remo in mind. Everyone knows that Paris-Nice is the perfect preparation for that race. But it’s not over yet, I still want to manage things this week."
Frenchman Démare now leads Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) by six seconds on the general classification, with Gilbert in third at 17 seconds.
Just as he did on Sunday, Porte found himself distanced from the front group, and quickly lost time. Porte crossed the line in a large group, 14 minutes and 16 seconds down on Colbrelli with his chance of taking overall victory looking all but over.
General classification hopes Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Daniel Martin (Quick-Step Floors), Sergio Henao (Team Sky) and Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) fared better, finishing in the front group.
French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was one of those riders who abandoned during the stage.
The 2017 Paris-Nice continues on Tuesday with stage three, a 190km trip from Chablis to Chalon-sur-Saône as the race continues to head southwards. There are two minor classified climbs in the second half of the stage, but – weather permitting – it should be a day for the sprinters.
Paris-Nice 2017, stage two: Rochefort-en-Yvelines to Amilly, 192.5km
1. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, 4-20-59
2. John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo
3. Arnaud Démare (Fra) FDJ
4. Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Lotto-Jumbo
5. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis
6. Matti Breschel (Den) Astana
7. Oliver Naesen (Bel) Ag2r La Mondiale
8. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Soudal
9. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin
10. Evaldas Siskevicius (Ltu) Delko Marseille Provence KTM
General classification after stage two
1. Arnaud Démare (Fra) FDJ, in 7-43-28
2. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, at 6 secs
3. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors, at 17 secs
4. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin, at 19 secs
5. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal, 1t 19 secs
6. Romain Hardy (Fra) Fortuneo-Vital Concept, at 21 secs
7. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at 23 secs
8. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky at 23 secs
9. Rudy Molard (Fra) FDJ at 23 secs
10. Kristijan Koren (Slo) Cannondale-Drapac, at 31 secs
19. Alberto Contador (Esp) Trek-Segafredo, at 1-18
21. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 1-18
35. Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing, at 15-17
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